The First Robot Invented Over A Thousand Years Ago

Fireworks aren't the only thing the Chinese deserve credit for inventing.

BY Matilda Sands
Sep.10,2019 / UPDATED ON FEB.28,2020

CalTech might have been founded in 1891 but they were late to the game when it came to robot technology. King Lan Ling reportedly invented a robot to serve drinks and perform dance routines. And that was 6th century AD, China. About a century later, an engineer named Ma Daifeng invented an automated dressing table accompanied by a robotic servant which would deliver towels and cosmetics. Unfortunately, there weren’t many venture capital firms back then to help perfect and push those inventions to market.

Over the years, archeologists have discovered other ancient artifacts which seem way ahead of their time: analog computers, automaton robots, radical building materials... If these inventions hadn’t been forgotten, we’d be living in a very different technological world.

If we’d just kept hold of the Ancient Greek computing device known as the “Antikythera Mechanism,” we might be walking around with brain implants by now, instead of weighing ourselves down with iPhones (the iPhone XR is about the same weight as a fat hamster). The AM was lost in a shipwreck in the 1st century BCE, and not discovered until the early 1900s.

Roman architects were using cement and concrete way before 19th century British industrialists rediscovered how to make the material. Just imagine— the age of the concrete high rise would have been over before the first colonists reached America. 

These early automatons were lost to time, but we still see robots as domestic servants or a replacement workforce. Perhaps, if these inventions hadn’t been forgotten, our idea of a robot would be entirely different? Or maybe we’d be the robots.


Keywords: robotsCaltechinventions6th century ChinaAncient Greek computing
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